According to researcher Kate J. Stockly, the intensifying interactions between technology and religion are here to stay.
In a 2021 interview with Publishers Weekly about her book Spirit Tech — co-authored with Wesley Wildman — Stockly said that rather than fighting the trends, people should try harnessing the convergence for good.
“I think that if people with good intentions don’t become part of the conversation, we are going to have more problems,” she said.
From brain-based tech designed to trigger, enhance, accelerate, modify or measure spiritual experiences to new spiritual movements in Silicon Valley and the everyday ways technology is used in worship and devotion, there is a brave new world of transcendent tech giving both pious pioneers and defenders of traditional religion something to ponder.
This edition of ReligionLink explores the crossovers between religion and modern technology, with relevant stories, analysis, background and expert sources to get you up to speed in an ever-evolving landscape.
In scholarly circles, “spiritual technology” is used to refer to any practice believed to enhance a person’s religious practices or identification. Here, we are talking specifically about the increased interplay between technology and spirituality.
Technology has always played a role in religion and spiritual practices have long involved technologies of various kinds. For millennia, revolutions in travel, printing and digital technologies were impacted by — and significantly transformed — religious traditions.
But today, innovators across religious traditions are actively probing the ways technology can be used yet again to augment and modify spiritual experiences (and vice versa).
The examples are numerous: from ultrasound beams for fast-tracking attempts at enlightenment to church in the “Metaverse,” Christian NFTs and online dating by Orthodox Jews and conservative Muslims. Meanwhile, as the space race heats back up in the private sphere and more people are going to space as paying passengers than as government employees, people are beginning to wonder what religion might look like … in spaaaaace!
While regulators in Europe, China and the U.S. try to rein in tech giants, things like electronically mediated meditation and virtuous virtual reality are no longer fringe exercises, but part of commonplace conversations everywhere from churches in the Midwest to coffee shops in Silicon Valley.
Thankfully, there are researchers, experts and other policy briefs here to help us appreciate the trends, trace the background and understand the technological terms that are coming at us hard and fast:
- Read “Highly religious Americans more skeptical of human enhancements such as brain implants, gene editing,” from Pew Research Center.
- Read “The religious divide on views of technologies that would ‘enhance’ human beings,” from Pew Research Center.
- Read “The relationship between religion, science and technology,” from Arizona State University News.
- Read “On the Intersection of Science and Religion,” from Pew Research Center.
- Read “Muslims in Outer Space,” from Harvard Divinity School.
- Read “How digital technology became sacred for Hindus,” from the Religion Media Centre.
- Read “Issue 36: Religion and Technology,” from the journal History and Technology.
- Read “Religion and Technology,” by Dennis Cheek.
- Read “Hinduism Case Study – Technology,” from Harvard Divinity School.
- Read “The Relationship Between Technology and Religion,” from Learn Religions.
- Read “Islamic Ethics and The Rise of Digital Technology,” from the Maydan.
- Read Spirit Tech: The Brave New World of Consciousness Hacking and Enlightenment Engineering, by Wesley J. Wildman and Kate J. Stockly.
- Read Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race, by Mary-Jane Rubenstein.
- Read Destined for the Stars: Faith, the Future, and America’s Final Frontier, by Catherine L. Newell.
- Read “Statement on freedom of religion or belief and digital technology,” from the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
The following stories run the gamut of religion and tech intersections. Whether you are looking for stories on “Israel’s ultra-Orthodox tech scene” or new Sikh emojis, Bitcoin epiphanies or “space pagans,” you will find a story below that will take you deeper into the convergence of high-tech spirituality on offer across traditions and around the world.
- Read “This matchmaking site helps religious Jews looking for love,” from The Jerusalem Post on Oct. 17, 2022.
- Read “Faith on the OpenSea: Christians Launch NFT Fundraisers,” from Christianity Today on Oct. 11, 2022.
- Read “Inside Israel’s ultra-Orthodox tech scene,” from Financial Times on Oct. 10, 2022.
- Read “Technology as the new God, before whom all others bow,” from Mind Matters News on Oct. 9, 2022 (commentary).
- Read “Monks go hi-tech to teach dharma,” from Khmer Times on Sept. 30, 2022.
- Read “The Future of Religion in the Metaverse,” from Religion & Politics on Aug. 9, 2022.
- Read “Madison writer Meghan O’Gieblyn explores the connection between technology and religion,” from Isthmus on Aug. 9, 2022.
- Read “Millennials adopt digital worship, but not at the expense of IRL faith,” from Religion News Service on August 5, 2022.
- Read “Space, Technology, and Religion,” from The Edgefield Advertiser on Aug. 5, 2022 (commentary).
- Listen “Where science and technology intersect with religion and spirituality,” from Wisconsin Public Radio on July 28, 2022.
- Read “New emojis up for approval in 2022, include symbol of Sikh faith Khanda,” from The Indian Express on July 15, 2022.
- Read “The People Who Are Finding God Through, and in, Bitcoin,” from Slate on July 12, 2022.
- Read “Bitcoin, Religion and Morality,” from Bitcoin Magazine on July 6, 2022 (commentary).
- Read “Religious minorities face growing digital persecution,” from The Tablet on July 5, 2022.
- Read “Why Silicon Valley is fertile ground for obscure religious beliefs,” from Vox on June 30, 2022.
- Read “How a Religious Sect Landed Google in a Lawsuit,” from The New York Times on June 16, 2022.
- Listen to “In ‘Work Pray Code,’ author Carolyn Chen reflects on what happens when we worship work,” from WBUR Radio on June 8, 2022.
- Read “How tech innovations have organized the religious and cultural segments of India,” from The Times of India on June 2, 2022.
- Listen to “How Big Tech Turned Work Into a Religion,” from KQED on June 1, 2022.
- Read “Touring the Tech-Adjacent World of the Amish,” from Publishers Weekly on May 11, 2022.
- Read “From the metaverse to NFTs, how the world of religion is embracing digital technology,” from Forbes India on May 10, 2022.
- Read “Carolyn Chen: ‘The tech company offers the most efficient solution to providing a meaningful life,’” from The Guardian on April 24, 2022.
- Read “The Gods of ‘Techtopia’ Giveth, and They Taketh Away,” from Christianity Today on April 4, 2022.
- Read “What the History of Science and Religion Reveals About Today’s Divisive Covid Debates,” from Smithsonian Magazine on March 22, 2022 (analysis).
- Watch “Carolyn Chen on Why Big Tech is Now Also Big Religion,” from LitHub on March 10, 2022.
- Read “Silicon Valley’s Secret Christians,” from The Wall Street Journal on Feb. 10, 2022.
- Read “Japan’s Shinto religion is going global and attracting online followers,” from The Conversation on Feb. 9, 2022 (analysis).
- Read “Religious leaders call on Zuckerberg to scrap Instagram Kids plans,” from Reuters on Feb. 8, 2022.
- Read “Faith in the metaverse: A VR quest for community, fellowship,” from The Associated Press on Jan. 31, 2022.
- Read “Is There a Place For Spirituality in Space Science?” from Undark on Jan. 27, 2022 (commentary).
- Read “Will Artificial Intelligence Transform Religion?” from The Review of Religions on Jan. 20, 2022 (commentary).
- Read “Mormon billionaire leaves faith, rebukes LGBTQ rights stance,” from The Associated Press on Dec. 22, 2021.
- Read “Heavens above: Nasa enlists priest to prepare for an alien discovery” from The Times UK on Dec. 22, 2021.
- Read “When Churches Closed, Religious Leaders Turned To Tech,” from Texas A&M Today on Dec. 20, 2021.
- Read “How to practice religion could be a big question for some space tourists,” from CNN on Dec. 7, 2021.
- Read “Space Pagans and Smartphone Witches: Where Tech Meets Mysticism,” from The New York Times on Nov. 25, 2021.
- Read “Silicon Valley makes a god of Big Tech. But religious faith is exactly what it needs,” from USA Today on Nov. 20, 2021 (commentary).
- Read “Why science and religion come together when discussing extraterrestrial life,” from The Hill on Nov. 18, 2021 (commentary).
- Read “Exploring religion’s role on Tech’s campus,” from Technique on Nov. 12, 2021.
- Read “Tales Of Technology And Faith,” from Noema Magazine on Sept. 23, 2021.
- Read “Galileo Project: Religion, science and the search for extraterrestrial life,” from The Hill on Sept. 15, 2021 (commentary).
- Listen “‘Who needs God when we’ve got Google?’: Blurring the lines between technology and faith,” from KCRW News on Sept. 11, 2021 (analysis).
- Read “Can Silicon Valley Find God?” from The New York Times on July 16, 2021 (commentary).
- Read “Putting faith in technology, literally,” from CBS News on April 25, 2021.
- Read “God in the Brain: PW Talks with Kate J. Stockly,” from Publishers Weekly on March 19, 2021.
- Read “Big Tech Censors Religion, Too,” from The Wall Street Journal on March 28, 2021.
- Read “FaithTech Series: How Sikhs zoomed in to combat Covid,” from iGlobal News on May 29, 2020.
- Read “As Worship Places Reopen, It’s Clear That Technology Has Already Conquered Every Religion,” from Forbes on May 18, 2020 (analysis).
- Read “Japan enables touchscreen tech for Shinto shrines,” from Digital Signage Today on May 12, 2020.
- Read “Religious groups are embracing technology during the lockdown, but can it replace human connection?” from The Conversation on May 1, 2020 (analysis).
- Read “Religions show faith in power of technology,” from Financial Times on Dec. 4, 2019.
- Read “Technology-oriented religions are coming,” from Quartz on Oct. 9, 2019.
- Read “App faith: how religions are embracing technology,” from The Guardian on April 18, 2018.
- Read “To be happier, pray at the altar of progress and put your faith in technology,” from Quartz on Nov. 2, 2016 (commentary).
Potential sources and experts
AI and Faith is a cross-spectrum consortium of faith communities and academic institutions. Its mission is to bring the fundamental values of the world’s major religions into the emerging debate on the ethical development of artificial intelligence and related technologies. Contact through the website.
Nichol Bradford is CEO and founder of the Willow Group and executive director and co-founder of the Transformative Technology Lab and Conference in California.
Heidi Campbell is a professor of communication at Texas A&M University. She has researched a variety of topics, including online faith communities, new media ethics and the relationship between digital culture and religion.
Carolyn Chen is an associate professor in the ethnic studies department at the University of California, Berkeley, whose research interests include religion, ethnicity, immigration and sociology of work.
Andrew Davison is Starbridge Associate Professor in Theology and Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge. His work spans Christian doctrine, natural science and philosophy. Recently, that has taken in life elsewhere in the universe, but also an application of medieval accounts of analogy to help think about what we mean when we attribute humanlike capacities to machine learning or artificial intelligence.
The Episcopal Network for Science, Technology & Faith is open to all Episcopalians interested in the intersection of science, technology, medicine and faith.
Robert Geraci is a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College in Riverdale, New York, where he teaches a course on science fiction, fantasy and religion. He is the author of Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in World of Warcraft and Second Life and Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality.
Noreen Herzfeld is a professor of theology and computer science at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict in Collegeville, Minnesota.
The Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology in St. Louis is an interfaith organization of Christians working to foster a “community of scientists and technologists who are dedicated both to the advancement of scientific understanding AND to the growth of Christianity.” Sister Marianne Postiglione is director of communications.
Mujahidul Islam is an ed tech specialist at Azim Premji University in Bengaluru, India. He works at the crossroads of technology, media and education with a special emphasis on the digital ways of learning and the theological underpinnings of mediated and perceptual learning.
The Israel Science and Technology Homepage is a database and directory of science- and technology-related sites in Israel. The site also includes sections on Jewish scientists and students in the Diaspora. Contact through the form on the website.
David Zvi Kalman is scholar-in-residence and director of new media at Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, where he was also a member of the inaugural cohort of North American David Hartman Center Fellows. He leads the Kogod Research Center’s research seminar on Judaism and the natural world.
Patricia Karpas is co-founder of Meditation Studio, a mindfulness meditation app. She is also the host of Untangle, Meditation Studio’s original podcast that shares stories from experts and thought leaders about how mindfulness practices change us. She is a former media executive at CNBC, NBC and AOL.
The Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology is an independent organization recognized by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that works to promote awareness, conversation and action on the implications of science and technology on faith. The Rev. Bruce Booher, a retired pastor, serves on the steering committee. Contact via Heather Dean.
Harold Morales is associate professor and director of the Center for the Study of Religion and the City, department of philosophy and religious studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore. His research focuses on the intersections between race and religion and between lived and mediated experience. He uses these critical lenses to engage Latinx religions in general and Latino Muslim groups in particular, with a focus on how they use digital media to create community.
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit society of distinguished scholars. Established by an act of Congress signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the NAS is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a world-renowned scholar on Islam who teaches Islamic studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. His writings include Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man and The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity. Much of his work focuses on Islamic spiritual values, but he has also written about the religious and spiritual dimensions of the environmental crisis.
Catherine L. Newell is associate professor of religion and science at the University of Miami. Newell is a scholar of the conjoined histories of religion and science (specifically technology, ecology and medicine). She is particularly interested in how scientific paradigms frequently owe their genesis to a religious idea or spiritual belief.
Diana Walsh Pasulka is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her areas of specialization include Catholic studies, religion and new media, digital culture and gender.
The nonprofit Religious Technology Center was established in 1982 to “preserve, maintain and protect the Scientology religion.” The center guards against improper use of Scientology’s religious symbols and technologies and has final ecclesiastical authority regarding their application, but it is not involved in routine church matters. Its international headquarters are in Los Angeles. David Miscavige has been the RTC’s chairman of the board since 1987.
Joshua Ruben is a technology professional, security engineer and coordinator for Technology Awareness Group, Chicago (TAG Chicago). TAG is an international organization dedicated to meeting the Orthodox Jewish communities’ technological needs by offering educational and training sessions, developing technology policies and providing filtering solutions.
Chris Skaggs is the founder and chief operations officer of Soma Games and Soma SoulWorks, based in Newberg, Oregon. Created in 2005, Soma Games fancies itself the “C.S. Lewis of video games” and strives to honor that aspiration by making artistically excellent games for people who may never go to church, but who find themselves having fun while pondering eternal things.
The Society of Ordained Scientists is an ecumenical fellowship of ordained people with an expertise in science, medicine or technology. The SOS has several aims, including “To offer to God in our ordained role the work of science and technology in the exploration and stewardship of creation.” The Rev. Stig Graham is warden. The Rev. Pamela Conrad is warden for the group’s North American province.
Kate Stockly researches affective neuroscience, cognitive science and evolutionary biology to construct biocultural theories of embodied religious ritual at Boston University.
Trevor Sutton is pastor at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Haslett, Michigan. He has written extensively about the intersections between Christianity, worship and technology.
Hava Tirosh-Samuelson is a professor of modern Judaism and history at Arizona State University in Tempe, where she studies Judaism and ecology, bioethics, and religion and science.